Cotton Mather's first album, 1994's Cotton Is King, was fine guitar pop with a decided Squeeze influence, but it doesn't prepare one at all for the sonic onslaught of its 1997 follow-up. Kon-Tiki is one can't-get-it-out-of-your-skull pop song after another, interspersed with bursts of tape collage and random studio noise. "Vegetable Row," for example, sounds like a hard-candy circa-'66 Dylan outtake before it ends with a few seconds' splice of a completely different song, which is rudely chopped off in time for the organ-driven "Aurora Bori Alice." Variety is the watchword on Kon-Tiki. The wildly overdriven feedback-fest "Church of Wilson" leads straight into the gently swirling keyboards and acoustic guitars of "Lily Dreams On," which immediately makes way for the classic harmony-filled jangle pop "Password." The amazing thing is that, despite the wild mood and style shifts, the album doesn't sound fragmentary in the least; the pieces all fall into place. Brad Jones' production features studio chatter, audible edits, remarkably loud clicks, and yet the overall sound is enormous, filled with amazing sonic depth. Lo-fi this ain't. Song titles like "Camp Hill Rail Operator" or "Animal Show Drinking Song" might recall Guided By Voices, and the audio-verite "Prophecy for the Golden Age" wouldn't have sounded out of place on Pavement's Westing (By Musket and Sextant), but neither band could possibly come up with a song like the instant classic "My Before and After," three minutes worth of non-stop hooks grounded with a percussive low-register piano part that makes it sound like a lost outtake from Revolver. In an album's worth of non-stop pop delights, "My Before and After" is a clear masterpiece. -AMG
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